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For Mom: The Best Books to Give on Mother's Day

From a love letter to flowers, to a boozy history of women and alcohol, to a couple of slam-dunk, can't-go-wrong, good-as-hell novels, our Mother's Day gift guide will help you treat mom to the ultimate thoughtful gift: a great book.
Tertulia staff •
May 5th, 2023

There’s still time to grab a thoughtful gift for mom. What does she love most? (After you, of course.) Traveling? Tennis? Cocktails? Curling up with a good novel? Whether you're shopping for a mom, mother figure, grandmother or yourself — because you are a woman who does it all — our Mother's Day gift guide below includes bookish goodies for all moms in all their glory. 

Instead of flowers

On Flowers: Lessons from an Accidental Florist by Amy Merrick

Mom can learn to create floral arrangements like a pro, or just take time to smell the proverbial roses with this love letter to flowers from floral artist Amy Merrick — a book which is (admittedly) probably best paired with a bouquet on Mother's Day. Described by the Wall Street Journal as a "delightful hodgepodge of photos, diagrams, and lists" that "decodes the art of the soulful bouquet," On Flowers will charm flora enthusiasts and blackthumbs alike, and serves as a guide from an author who sees the potential in all blooms, from carnations to wild flowers that grow between sidewalk cracks, and whose flowers have appeared in Vogue and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Instead of a photo album

The Essential Questions: Interview Your Family to Uncover Stories and Bridge Generations by Elizabeth Keating

A picture is worth a thousand words, but the stories and family histories behind photos are important, too. And unlike a photograph, these histories are not so easily captured. A UK survey in 2021 revealed two-thirds of British adults regret not talking to their late parents and grandparents about their lives and experiences. This book by anthropologist Elizabeth Keating can help you and your loved ones avoid such an unhappy fate.

Drawing on her life’s work, Keating’s Essential Questions serves as a practical guide to connecting across generations and to understanding your elders as individuals – people with full lives who existed in a time and place, as children and young adults – not just as people who raised you. Like its title suggests, this is an essential book for those who wish to preserve the inner lives and wisdom of elders who are still with them.

Pair this with champagne

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar J. Mazzeo

This bestselling biography following the iconic young widow who defied convention and built a champagne empire is the perfect gift for a mom who loves history but also leans into luxury. “Tilar J. Mazzeo’s informed and enlightening biography of Madame Clicquot, the widow and, more important, the businesswoman, retrieves her vintage story as if looking for a rare bottle in one of the Champagne region’s deepest caves,” wrote a Newsday reviewer.

For the mom who loves musical theater but you can't get her tickets to Broadway

Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers by Mary Rodgers

Functioning both as a gossipy tell-all and a confessional from an insider who came from Broadway royalty, Shy serves up what Leah Greenblatt described in Entertainment Weekly as a "box-seat view on some of the best, brightest, and most idiosyncratic creative minds of the 20th century." This posthumously published memoir from Mary Rodgers, daughter of songwriter Richard Rodgers, and a composer and writer herself, is an essential read for theater lovers.

For the opera-loving mom

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This historical epic took author Alexander Chee 15 years to write. The result is a book with a head-spinning number of accolades – too many to list here – which follows 19th-century orphan Lilliet Berne as she ditches her humble American roots for more glamorous beginnings as a Paris opera star. Our cunning protagonist finds wild success (while wearing many, many ballgowns) as a star soprano, finally landing the role that will set her reputation for life. There's just one problem: the opera is based on her deepest secret. The Queen of the Night reaches operatic heights with its rich details; one Esquire writer wrote, “The descriptions of her dresses alone are worth the price of this book.”

Short stories for the mom who wants to get back into reading

The Faraway World: Stories by Patricia Engel

This beautiful collection of award-winning short stories from bestselling author Patricia Engel has been one of the stand-out books to come out in 2023, getting rave reviews across the board. Engel explores themes of migration, sacrifice and regret through the perspectives and intimate moments of characters living across the Americas. Haunting and brilliant, The Faraway World shows the Latin American diaspora in all its hope and complexity. Book critic Lauren LeBlanc described it as "simply incandescent."

For the mom who really needs to get away from it all

Footsteps: From Ferrante's Naples to Hammett's San Francisco, Literary Pilgrimages Around the World from The New York Times

No one needs time to relax and restore more than moms. For bookish moms who recharge best with travel, maybe a trip to the French Riviera with F. Scott Fitzgerald to replenish the soul? Saigon with Marguerite Duras perhaps? How about the streets of Naples with Elena Ferrante? This New York Times anthology is loaded with once-in-a-lifetime trips with literary legends as your travel companion. Each essay is bylined by a different writer from The New York Times’ travel section and takes readers to the geographic spots that inspired some of history’s greatest writers.

For the mom who loves celebrity gossip

You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips

Julia Phillips, whose producer credits include Taxi Driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind takes a torch to La La Land in this tell-all with all the spicy trimmings: sex, drugs, greed, and an outrageous liberal elite for whom money is king. Let us repeat: this is the memoir that pulls no punches. And we're here to gobble up every page.

For the mom who loves a good party

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

This book offers insight and guidance on how to level up your next party, meeting or any gathering, really. After years of pandemic distancing and people clamoring for a sense of belonging and community, our gatherings (large and small) deserve pizzazz. Priya Parker makes the case that a better party is possible. Parker draws on her years facilitating high-powered events of all kinds to show readers what works and doesn't work, and serves up advice on breaking out of bad hosting habits to make small but important changes that will leave guests with meaningful, memorable experiences.

For the tennis mom

Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Tennis weather is upon us, and what better way to ring in the season than with this riveting novel about a champion canceling her retirement plans for one final season to reclaim her title as the greatest player of all time. "Even if you’re not a tennis fan, this novel will grab you. You’ll tear through blow-by-blow descriptions of championship matches on some of the most famous tennis courts in the world," Carol Memmott wrote in the Washington Post.

For the new mom

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster

Becoming a mother is full of unexpected surprises no matter how many books you arm yourself with. But this book by Brown University economist and author Emily Oster is lighter on advice and heavy on numbers — like a data-driven machete slicing through the noisy marketplace of parenting theories that drive new parents mad. “This book will not tell you what decisions to make for your kids," she writes in Cribsheet. "Instead, I’ll try to give you the necessary inputs and a bit of a decision framework. The data is the same for us all, but the decisions are yours alone." Oster’s other book, 2013's parenting bible Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know, is also a great pick for the mom-to-be. 

For the mom who likes to gin up a cocktail

Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O'Meara

We raise our Mother’s Day mimosa glasses to this James Beard Award winner and 2022 Guardian Best History and Politics Book. In this cheeky treatise, which Patton Oswalt called a "raw shot of boozy history that stings as well as it soothes,” Mallory O’Meara dives into the seldom-told history of women distillers, drinkers, bartenders – all the way back to the Sumerian beer goddess Ninkasi – without whom our drinking culture might not exist.

Two slam-dunk, can't-go-wrong, good-as-hell novels to give as gifts

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Shortlisted for this year’s Women's Prize for Fiction, Barbara Kingsolver's Demon Copperhead places an already revered author at the absolute top of her game. Part coming-of-age masterpiece, part Dickens, part commentary on the poverty gripping Appalachia – Kingsolver's childhood terrain – this novel will stuff your heart in a meat grinder, but not before its taken in by Kingsolver's sharp-witted protagonist Damon, our derelict herochild with nothing to his name but a gut instinct for survival and the good looks of his dead father. Stephen King called it “storytelling at its best,” while The Guardian's Elizabeth Lowry described it as "the book [Kingsolver] was born to write."

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

This deeply moving fourth novel from Ann Napolitano – already a contender for the best book of 2023 – was Oprah’s 100th book club selection. And we know our book club queen would not mess with such a milestone. Hello Beautiful follows William Waters from his early trials of being born into a family shaped by tragedy, and into the arms of college sweetheart-turned-wife Julia Padavano, a woman with uncompromising ambition and a bevy of sisters. The yin to William's yang. Has he finally made it to the cozy promised land of family life and loving in-laws, or is tragedy just over the horizon? Hello Beautiful weaves together perspectives from all its characters, resulting in a beautiful tale of family, friendship, love, luck and grief.

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